Taking Babies from Bottle to Cup: How to Ease Them Into This Transition Day 3: Taking Babies from Bottle to Cup: How to Ease Them Into This Transition

Taking Babies from Bottle to Cup: How to Ease Them Into This Transition

This is an exciting and challenging phase for you and your baby as you face two kinds of transitions: (1) making the switch from breast or formula to cow's milk and (2) shifting from drinking from bottle to drinking from cup (open and straw).

Helping babies learn this skill is important for their oral motor development and healthy drinking habits that they will use for life.

This article is mainly for parents who bottle feed formula or breast milk. 

  • Recommended guidelines suggest introducing an open or straw cup for babies post 6 months. 
  • It’s good to completely phase out your baby’s bottle usage between 12 and 14 months.
  • By year 1, most babies have developed the necessary hand-eye coordination and oral motor skills required to hold and drink from a cup, which helps this transition.

Today, we'll explore how to make this transition as smooth as possible for both you and your little one.


WE SUGGEST:  The aim of this article is not to overwhelm or stress you out; please look at it as a friendly guide with verified information for parents.


Why Should Babies Transition from Bottle to Cup?

Every baby's journey is different. Many babies continue to use the bottle beyond 1 years, and that’s fine. Trust your instincts and do what feels right for you and your little one.

Let’s look at some reasons why it’s good for babies to move from bottle to open/straw cup.

1) Dental issues: Prolonged bottle use can lead to tooth decay or an increased risk of cavities, particularly when babies fall asleep with a nighttime bottle. Because their teeth or gums are constantly soaked in the milk, babies may face discomfort or difficulties in eating and sleeping.

2) Excessive milk consumption: Using the bottle for an extended period may result in babies drinking too much milk. Why is this a bad thing?

  • Babies may fill up on milk, leaving no room for nutritious solid foods. If this persists, it can make the child depend solely on the bottle when hungry.
  • They might miss out on essential nutrients found in solid foods.
  • Too much milk drinking may affect iron absorption, potentially causing iron deficiency in your baby.

3) Picky eating habits: Relying on the bottle for an extended period can contribute to future picky eating habits. Babies may keep favoring milk over solid foods.

4) Oral motor delays: Experts, including dentists, occupational therapists, and speech therapists, recommend weaning babies off the bottle before they reach the age of 2. Continuing bottle use can lead to speech delays and issues with tooth alignment. 

Babies tend to use a "suckle" motion with the bottle, which they are born with so they can feed from a breast or bottle. But, as they start eating solid foods, they need to develop advanced oral motor skills, like chewing and drinking from a regular cup. Extended bottle usage can hinder the development of these skills.

5) Weight concerns: Research shows a link between excessive bottle use and childhood obesity. Every additional month of bottle use is associated with a slight increase in the risk of childhood obesity.

As babies get older, they may resist more strongly in giving up the bottle, making it tougher for parents.

Preparing Your Toddler for the Change

Starting at 1 year, your baby is having to learn two important transitions: switching from formula to cow's milk and moving from a bottle to a cup. Many parents really struggle with the bottle-to-cup transition because babies are attached to their bottles and may not want to give them up.

1) Start when your baby is 6 months old. Let them practice drinking from an open cup and a straw cup. This helps them learn how to use these cups. When it's time to switch from a bottle to a cup, they'll already have the skills they need.

2) Let your child choose their straw and open cup. It can have their favorite character or be in their favorite color. Make them excited and part of the process. Tell them they're becoming a big boy or big girl, and now they get to drink from a big boy or big girl cup!

3) When it's time to say goodbye to the bottle, encourage your baby to put it away by symbolically “throwing it away” (you can of course save it and keep it out of their sight). Encourage them by spinning a positive take like: "Now, let's say bye-bye to the bottle, so you can use your big boy/big girl cup every time. You’re doing so well with it!" 

Two Methods for Making the Transition

When your baby switches from a bottle to a cup, they may drink less than before, which is good.

Try any of these two methods. You can use them together or try them one after the other. See what works best for you and your baby.

Method 1: Dropping one bottle at a time

Method 2: Offering less tasty milk in the bottle

  • A gradual approach. Instead of stopping bottle use at once, drop one bottle or reduce the amount of milk in each bottle.
  • If they have 3 bottles a day, keep 2 bottles and replace the third with a cup (1st or 2nd bottle of the day is usually the easiest to stop).
  • For babies (above 1 year) who are still attached to their bottle. 
  • Mix water with the milk in their bottle to dilute the taste.
  • Praise/reward your baby when they drink from the cup (“Look who’s a big boy/girl drinking from their big boy/girl cup. Very good job”)
  • Consistently and slowly increase cup usage while reducing bottle usage.
  • Start with 25% water and 75% milk, then switch to 50%-50%, then 75% water and 25% milk, and then just 100% water in their bottle.
  • Also offer them a straw cup or open cup with whole milk during mealtimes instead of a formula or breast milk bottle.
  • The last bottle to go is often the nighttime one. Give them milk in a cup during dinner and no milk before bed.
  • Offer extra comfort as needed during this switch.
  • Your baby’s drinking more from the cup and less from their bottle. 

Ending the Nighttime Bottle Habit: Why & How

It’s not good if babies fall asleep with a bottle in their mouth, as it can lead to cavities and tooth decay. Instead have your baby sit on your lap or on the bed to enjoy their milk before bedtime. Afterward, rinse their mouth or offer a few sips of water before sleep. Your baby may be extra clingy or cranky, that’s okay. Just give them comfort and love. With time, they will get used to this.

Tips for Parents & Caregivers

1) Be consistent regardless of the approach you choose. This switch from bottle to cup can be tough for babies and parents. Expect tantrums or crankiness. Remember this is temporary!

2) Celebrate every small win. Even if your baby takes just a couple of sips from their new cup, it's a great win. Praise them so they are encouraged to do it more.

3) Be exaggerated in your praise when your baby accomplishes something positive. They will keep repeating their behavior.

4) Don’t feel bad. Progress can be slow, things will get better.

5) If your baby’s struggling with the transition and you're not sure why, speak to your doctor to check for underlying causes.

6) If possible, involve all caregivers, from family members to nannies, to help your baby practice this new skill.

7) For guidance on which straw/open cup is suitable for your baby, refer to this earlier article. 

8) With older toddlers, introduce a Reward Chart. When they don't ask for a bottle or successfully drink milk from a cup, give them a sticker. Toddlers may find stickers to be exciting rewards in themselves. Or reward them by singing a song, telling a story, or cuddling with them.

WE SUGGEST: Be patient and give your baby many chances to adjust. Even if it seems hard at first, your baby will learn to drink from the cup.

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